National Building Museum Explores ‘Designing for Disaster’


By Stephanie Murg Comment

johnstown PA 1889The Washington Monument reopens to the public today—nearly three years after sustaining severe damage from the 5.8-magnitude earthquake that shook the East Coast in August 2011. Total cost of repairs to the towering obelisk? Approximately $15 million. Amidst rising costs associated with natural disasters, the National Building Museum is exploring new approaches to disaster resilience in “Designing for Disaster,” an exhibition that runs through August 2 of next year at the Washington, D.C. institution.

Organized by the destructive forces associated with each of the elements—earth, air, fire, and water, the show is a mix of case studies, artifacts (including singed opera glasses from the Waldo Canyon wildfire, and stone fragments from the earthquake-damaged National Cathedral), and immersive experiences (DIY disasters?) such as a “wall of wind” against which visitors can compare how various roof shapes perform in hurricane-force gales. Those that find even simulated disasters overwhelming can take refuge in the FEMA-specified tornado safe room.